Blurring Boundaries between PR, Advertising and Journalism

While traditional journalistic formats are going through a period of crisis, this trend is the opposite for corporate publishing. So-called “owned media” are often designed to resemble journalistic media, which disguises their commercial intent. In order to create this content, organizations often hire (former) journalists who have “switched sides” or need to supplement their salaries. Media organizations also increasingly try to increase their advertising revenues by selling space to organizations, which looks like editorial content (“sponsored content”). This leads to the blurring of boundaries between PR, advertising, and journalism, and a number of ethical challenges, as practitioners have to serve the public as well as persuade their target audiences in the interest of their clients. In our research we are interested in the perceptions of these blurring boundaries by communication practitioners and the possible conflicts of interest that arise. We also analyze the effects of native advertising on media consumers and the media publishing this form of sponsored content.


Practitioners’ Perceptions of Blurring Boundaries

How do practitioners from different field of communication perceive the blurring lines between PR, advertising and journalism, and what ethical challenges and conflicts of interest do they experience? By means of qualitative interviews the research generates insights into practitioners’ understanding of their roles and how they reflect on the blurring of boundaries between the fields of communication. Based on the findings, the project aims to develop a training program that sensitizes practitioners and prepares them to deal with challenges due to blurring boundaries and so-called hybrid forms of content.

The project is funded by the Scientific Senate of the Public Relations Society of Austria (PRVA) from June 2021 to March 2023.

Contact: Sabine Einwiller, Lina Stürmer



Native Advertising

Over the past decades, persuasive attempts through classical advertising that aim to obtrusively influence consumers to prefer, like and buy certain products or brands have lost effectiveness. This urges communicators to consider new ways of promoting their offerings by applying less obtrusive messages that add informational, entertainment or social value. Here, native advertising is often regarded as a promising new opportunity to inform consumers. Native advertising comes in a variety of forms and channels (e.g., Facebook posts, newspaper articles), however, at its heart it consists of promotional messages that are made to look like content which is published by a respected source (e.g., friends, journalists). This may lead to issues of transparency, as it becomes harder for consumers to distinguish commercial content from non-commercial content. We strive to better understand the role of this message format for media users by investigating their perceptions and reactions (e.g., reactance) to different forms of native advertising that are prominent in online news portals.

The project Native Advertising on Online Portals of Austrian News Media was funded by KommAustria - the Austrian Communications Authority from 2018-2020. It is also featured on the Societal Impact Platform of the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Contact: Christopher Ruppel